Faking It

Today's bee activities we are a bit unplanned. We had a "non-bee" day yesterday as we were away on Easter day, so took the day off, so to speak. Today we had some things in the garden to sort out, so were only planning a small bee search later in the afternoon.

We are particularly looking for Carder bees, as we read they are less fussy about the nest conditions; and now is the time to be finding them. We went out to the usual place but we were seeing very few bees. At about 5pm it was about 13 degrees in the shade, 16 degrees in the sun. Quite a blustery windchill factor and it just seemed like it was not a "bee day".

On the return journey we did see a few bees - all in all, 2 carder bees (which were impossible to catch), one smaller bee (possibly a carder worker), two redtails (one feeding on the crop in the field, the other mooching about the grass) and a bufftail. I managed to catch the bufftail (BB29). We took her to the front box, but she took 20 minutes to go in and then only stayed in the box about 20 minutes before leaving; to be expected really. 

Nest Enhancements

 Today I had some leftover expanding foam from another DIY job, so right there and then I decided to make a fake protective "hummock" for the rear nest box. I'd been thinking of something like this for some time as a way to protect from the heat of the sun as well as rain, but also to try and provide more of that convincing "underground" sensation.

So, you may be wondering how a grassy hummock counts as underground? Well, although it is over-ground in terms of the ground around it, I'm banking (no pun intended) on the fact that if it's sufficiently realistic, then it will seem like it is properly in the ground, i.e. surrounded by earth; and that if the bee enters and feels like they are heading downwards to the nest area, then it will prove sufficiently convincing. Anyway, given that it cost under a tenner to make, it seemed worth a try. There's a great BBC video that shows bees active inside their nest and when you look at how they've made the film it looks like they might have done exactly the same thing as me (albeit to a higher standard).  

expanding foam over nest box to create mould.  First I covered the existing box in plastic and used it as a mould to spray the foam over. 

box used as mould for expanding foamOnce the foam had dried (about 40 mins) I painted it with spray on "plastic paint". This is designed for painting plastic surfaces and it dries very quickly (touch-dry within 10 minutes). 

foam sprayed greenThe green is unfortunately very lurid! But that was the choice i was stuck with. So I also bought some brown paint that looked a muddy colour. In fact, since we have regularly seen bees nest-searching in muddy bank and have even located a real nest in a muddy hole in the ground, this seemed like a reasonable addition.

"mud" colour added to the constructionIt's starting to look a lot more realistic now - and look at all those lovely nooks and crannies for bees to explore! After this step had dried, I trimmed off the excess plastic sheet from underneath and also sprayed the underside green. 

Once the "hummock" is in place, it is covered in bits of grass and straw and plants in order to help it blend in. 

completed hummock (rear view)completed box in situ - front bee's-eye viewAs part of this modification we also changed the internal box material again today. Although we recently added some field hay, we've done a u-turn on this and decided to go with moss instead - this is reported as being favourable in general and something Carder bees like in particular as they are able to work it well; and will even bring moss to the box if they need to. 

 Future options

The expanding foam is surprisingly easy and quick to work with - I'd pretty much completed the above project within an hour. The problem is, I've left it a bit late for this year's nesting queens, so really I now need to start thinking about next year.

I'm already formulating some ideas, which could include a complete false embankment along our back fence with multiple embedded nest boxes, as well as different types and sizes of holes and cavities. With such a set up, we could run a big experiment with multiple nests to figure out what really works best. With enough preparation time I could kit it out with all the technology I need: thermometers, infra-red, video cameras, microphones etc. 

And if you want to hire me for any futuristic set-building in future, give me a call ;-)